When Chronic Illness or Life Circumstances Affect Your Holidays Negatively
I’ve created some holiday checklists here for those with chronic illness, and those who want to lend a helping hand. Holiday seasons are a time for fun and bonding, yet they can also be stressful periods, more so for some than others.
Whilst many are out shopping for gifts, there are single mothers struggling to provide a simple meal for their children. Whilst many are drinking in celebration, there are also many who are drinking to drown their sorrows. Whilst many are hopping from party to party, others are under their covers crying all alone in pain. The list of contrasts doesn’t end here.
Unlike others, those who live with chronic illness may find the holiday season a trying time. They might even dread instead of look forward to all the festivities.
It is not uncommon for them to create holiday checklists. Many of them start planning a month or two in advance, just so that they will be able to ‘perform their duties’. For those who have loved ones with chronic illness, perhaps you’d like to help, but have no clue on how to do so.
*Post Updated: 06 December 2021.
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Holiday Checklist 1: What to Do with Chronic Illness, Before the Holiday Festivities Go Into Full Swing
- Schedule in Time for Breaks. Have you scheduled in some rest time both before and after each activity? It’s easy to become absorbed in all the fun and festivities. But chronic illness has a way of demanding payback later. Don’t fear it, but don’t neglect pacing your energy levels.
- Ration Your Energy Wisely. Will this dish/decor/routine/task really make a big difference? Is it worth spending your limited energy supply on, or is there an easier alternative?
- Ration Your Energy Further. Is this obligation a necessary one to fulfil? Or would it be better to spend that energy on something more meaningful instead?
- Simplify and Improvise. Is this a task you can simplify? Instead of creating something from scratch, perhaps part of it can be pre-made? Instead of hauling a pile of groceries or presents home, perhaps you can shop online?
- Delegate and Channel the Holiday Spirit. Are there any tasks you can delegate to someone else who’s willing to help out? Don’t feel bad about it, especially if they offered assistance. They will be happy to help, and your body will thank you for it. It’s the season of giving for everyone, after all!
- Pack Your Medications Beforehand. I’m sure every person with chronic illness has a pouch in their bags that contain medications. Both emergency ones, and their regular ones. Ensure that everything’s packed, not expired, and easy to access should you need to pop a pill.
- Don’t Forget Your Comfort Tools. Comfort tools don’t have to be anything fancy, and can make a big difference in helping you to cope. Perhaps a hot water bottle, a pair of migraine glasses, or even essential oils. Things that help to relieve your mind and body of some stress, pressure and chronic pain.
- Rope in a Lookout Buddy. Do you have someone to look out for you? Especially someone who’s familiar with your chronic illness and its pre-flare symptoms? An extra pair of eyes that will notice should you be overdoing things, or if you get a little confused? If you don’t, you can also run a trustworthy person through your ‘chronic illness emergency protocol’.
- Know Your Exit Plan, in Case You Need to Leave Suddenly. In the event where you need to leave early due to chronic illness, what will your ‘exit plan’ be? Do you need to label or put your gifts somewhere first? Do you need to have a plastic bag, essential oil, or medication on hand for sudden symptoms?
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Holiday Checklist 2: Self-Care To Dos Whilst Attending an Event with Chronic Illness
- Check in with Yourself Every Hour or So. Are you drinking enough water? How are you feeling? If you notice a decline in your health or mind, do something to make yourself feel better. For example, lie down on the sofa, rub on some essential oils, or simply take your leave. Set an alarm if it helps you to remember.
- Ignore the Ignorant. Create Good Memories. If someone is making ignorant remarks about your chronic illness, remember that you don’t have time or energy for this nonsense. Their fleeting, thoughtless comment is not worth your health or anger. Spend it on creating good memories that you can treasure and keep instead.
- Keep Breathing! Take some time every now and then to steady and destress yourself through your breath. It’s beneficial for your mind, body, spirit and emotions!
Keep Listening to Your Body & Adapting. Are you feeling safe, assured and comfortable? If not, what can you do to feel more relaxed and thus, last longer with less backlash pain?
Chronic illness and mental health can go in a vicious cycle. So don’t forget to pay attention to both aspects, and assess what you can do to help yourself to feel better. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all the difference.
- Speak Up. If you’re slightly unwell but still would like to join in the festivities, then voice it out. For example, you can always sit and watch others play games, without having to participate in them physically.
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Holiday Checklist 3 (For the Supporters): What You Can Do to Support Those with Chronic Illness
Don’t Wait for Those with Chronic Illness to Ask for Help. Offer It. Offer to be their ‘lookout buddy’. You don’t always have to wait for someone to ask for help. Often when they do, it’s because they’re already at their wits’ end.
Be their personal advocate. Ask them for permission to bug them often with questions like, ‘how are you feeling?’. And, ‘is there anything you need help with?’.
- Offer to be Their Kitchen or Cooking Assistant. Even without chronic illness, chopping, slicing, dicing and washing up to prepare food takes effort. For a person with chronic illness, this can lead to chronic pain and flare ups. You don’t need to be a kitchen wizard to help out with such chores, so go ahead and ask if you can be of help!
Offer to Do Their Christmas Shopping or Groceries for Them.Get a list of items to buy, and go for it! Shopping for presents or groceries can be tedious tasks even on a regular day. The extra precautions needed to be taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic can make them even more exhausting.
You can help to sanitise and put the groceries away, which can take them hours to do. Which also means that they barely have much energy left for the rest of the day. Or perhaps help to purchase all their gift items online or offline in one go. Chronic illness can make sitting and/or typing at the computer exhausting as well.
- Engage Their Minds. Set them at ease. Tell them jokes, chat and gossip. Relieve them of the worries that are probably playing on repeat in their minds. And yes, you can talk to a person with chronic illness like a normal person. Chances are, they’ll appreciate that a great deal!
- Offer to Keep an Eye on the Kids or Pets. Children and pets will ultimately be their parents’ responsibility, but you can help lighten some of the load. Children are full of energy and questions. Maybe you can burn that off by running around with them, and satiating their curious minds. It’s your chance to be that cool aunt or uncle 😉
Offer to Take Them Outside for a Short Breather. Ask if they’d like to go out for some fresh air every now and then. Holiday events can be boisterous, chaotic and noisy.
Sound, scents and lights can be huge triggers for those with chronic illness. They not only have an impact on mental well-being, but can trigger pain flares.
Take your friend or loved one with chronic illness some place quiet. Get some fresh air and re-stabilise, before rejoining the crowd.
- Help to Conserve Their Physical Energy. Minimise their need for movement, as this can add up quickly. On a normal day some movement is probably good for them. But attending an event is already an exhausting activity in and of itself, when you have chronic illness in tow. Let them chill out on the sofa whilst you serve up some yummy delicacies, if they can eat them!
- Treat Them Like a Normal Guest. Seriously, I love it when people treat me like a normal person. It makes me feel the most welcomed, understood and comfortable. When people hesitate to ask me questions, or treat me with special attention all the time, it can get awkward. It makes me feel like a child who is incapable of caring for herself.
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I wanted to say ‘treat those with chronic illness with an extra sprinkle of thoughtfulness’. But thinking about it, shouldn’t we treat everyone that way regardless?
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! I hope that these holiday checklists were useful both to those with chronic illness and their supporters.
End the year as best as you can, wherever you are in life! Do you have more tips to add to these lists? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
*Disclaimer: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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Wow, another outstanding post, Sheryl! You’ve packed in so many great tips here. I especially like “Ignore the ignorant.” I SO need to train myself to do that and not let those who don’t get it ruin my holiday.
I included this post on my round-up of chronic illness holiday blog posts:
Hope you enjoy the season!
Fantastic tips and advice! We all love to be involved and participate in the holidays and I always overdo! Thank you for sharing your Insight! Happy holidays!!
Thank you Holly! We all definitely do as chronically ill people I think… who doesn’t want to participate in the fun and festivities, right!? Wishing you a happy holiday too!
This is a really good checklist. I think sometimes we forget that all illness has a (however mild) knock-on effect in several directions, back and forth. It’s important to be mindful and work together. Hope you have a great holiday season. I’m certainly looking forward to relaxing after eating a bit too much turkey tomorrow!
Ooh boy, I’d love to have some nice, fresh, roasted turkey now! And yes, anything stress related – the good or bad kind – will induce pain flares regardless. Pace well and have a happy holiday!
I love that you added a list for the family and friends of those living with chronic illness. That has been the main change for me. I have given up many of my duties. My daughter is now hosting Thanksgiving at her house.
Thanks Katie! I think lots of times people want to help but just don’t know how as it can be a sensitive topic, or they might feel awkward, or afraid to make us feel awkward! So I guess spelling it out in this case helps! 😉 I’m glad your daughter helps you out x
I love the extra checklists and add-ons that you’ve added to this article, Sheryl. Really well done! Enjoy your holidays!
Thanks Carrie! Just a refresh from last year to make it an even better resource for all! Enjoy yourself, too!
This is a great checklist. I can see it definitely coming in handy for anyone with chronic illness or anyone who cares for someone with a chronic illness
Thanks Amber! I do hope it’s useful for chronic illness people! It can be realllly easy to fall into the trap of overdoing once you get started! Have a great season!
Thanks Amber! And there are three, for different parts of the holiday season, since it’s not really a one day one off thing! Wishing you a merry season!
great list. i have a few chronic illnesses that have made me disabled. i always do too much around the holidays and it’s so hard.
I hear you. It can be difficult in both the stress and excitement of it all! Really hard to keep a happy balance, especially when it changes every minute! Hope it’s a good one for you this year!
I am sorry to hear that, Katrina. I hope there are bits of the holidays that you still are able to enjoy. Pacing really is important, as well as narrowing it down to what matters most to you. Sending joy this season!
As someone without chronic illness, I did not know so much thought process goes into a holiday planning, it is eye opening for me to read this and be more aware of others and their needs
Thanks for taking the time to read and consider us invisible illness folks! 😉 We definitely appreciate people like you.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Yes I think when you live with a chronic illness, life revolves around a whole load of planning!
Very thoughtful post and beautiful list of reminders this season. Have a very merry Christmas and blessed New Year!
Thanks Catherine, and Merry CHristmas and New Year to you and your loved ones too!
This is such a sweet and thoughtful post. I am thankful that no one I know has any chronic illnesses. It humbles me.
Thanks Ashley. I am glad that you don’t know anyone with chronic illnesses, either! Though there are actually many with chronic pain around, but they just don’t speak up, in workplaces and such 🙂 Sending good thoughts for the season!
It’s really hard for people with chronic illnesses to deal with everyday stressors, especially during the holidays. It’s nice of you to give your tips on this subject.
Thanks Dan! I hope these tips are helpful not just to those with chronic illnesses, but also their loved ones, or anyone who wants to be part of the ‘team’. It’s the season for it after all 🙂
Really, truly appreciate what you did here! You’ve compiled a great list with some highly valid questions. It’s crazy how much pressure we put on ourselves this time of year. Thanks for the reminder to take a step back and re-evaluate.
Yes insane isn’t it, all that unnecessary pressure to keep up with the Jones’! Thanks for reading, taking a step back for anyone is definitely a good idea! 😉
What an important checklist. It’s hard to imagine what one goes through, but you really helped put it all into perspective. I hope your holidays are bright and you are enjoying them.
Thanks Michelle, am glad you found it helpful. Hopefully it’s some good reminders for any event or season as well!
It will be a beautiful but delicate Christmas for me, my mom was operated on two months ago and I want her to enjoy the holidays without being too stressed if this were the case, her recovery situation would only worsen.
I am sorry to hear about the operation. I hope it went well and that she’s recovering nicely. Sending well wishes for the holidays, and a stress-free one as much as is possible!
Great post that we should all be aware of. I think a lot applies to everyone being overwhelmed especially during the holidays. Lower expectations that we have to “do it all”. Love you give us ways to be more aware and ideas. Happy Holidays.
Thanks so much as always, Amelia! Yes these ideas are definitely applicable to one and all in order to take care of your self during this busy, often stressful season!
These are wonderful checklists – I always have an “exit” plan too 🙂
Thanks Kim, exit plans can really help in many ways – no regrets, ‘should haves’, less anxiety, saving energy for what matters, etc. 🙂
Great lists, Sheryl! Now to actually put them into practice. I overdid myself for Thanksgiving last month. I need to pick simpler food options or ask for help.
Thanks Kathy, hope they’re helpful! Oh dear, it’s really difficult to not overdo, so much self-awareness is needed, and even so! Sending hugs and hope your symptoms ease up in time to enjoy some of Christmas! xxx
Socialising is definitely my top struggle so good idea on the buddy. I thought I’d planned in rest last year but one day off in between three different events, two of them two day-ers was no where near enough. This year things are looking a lot more simple and spread out 🙂
That sounds like a good idea to spread things out a bit more! It’s less celebrated here in Singapore – still celebrated but I don’t think to the levels in Western countries, so it’s a little bit easier to pace. Sending happy wishes and have a good one!
This will appear in today’s #chronicillnessVOICE (9 Dec) which goes live at 11 am UK time.
Great infographics for us to use, thank you and wishing you wellness as always
Thanks so much Carole, hope it helps someone out there 😀
Such great advice for all those with Chronic illness, I have pinned this as it is so informative x
Thanks Claire, happy you pinned them. Hope they are helpful to you and others! 🙂
These are fantastic lists for both the chronic illness person and for their friends/family. Christmas can be difficult, so having checklists like these are ideal.
Thank you, yes the holiday season requires so much more extra pacing for us, and the people around us can be thrown into confusion, too! Checklists can help that little bit 🙂
Fabulous check lists!!!! Wishing you a lovely holiday season!
Thanks lovely, wishing you a lovely one, too! x
Thank you for this! I also have a chronic “invisible” illness. I’m very thankful that it doesn’t cause me pain, but I do find that I get tired more easily than I used to. Mostly, this is a frustration for me, not others, but so many entries on this list apply in that I need to remember to be kind to myself as well as others! Have a very happy holiday!
You’re welcome, Dawn! No matter how severe our health conditions are, self-care is very important, especially during such a busy period! Have a happy holiday too!
Great post. We really do all need to think more of ourselves than what’s expected.
Hi Jo, yes indeed! It all works out to the benefit of all in the end 🙂
A brilliant and comprehensive list Sheryl! I am going to share wide. A great help for me personally. Happy Christmas.
Thanks Verla, hope it does help some out there, and thank you so much for sharing! Happy Christmas to you too!
Fantastic checklist Sheryl, thanks so much for this! It is such a good reminder as I try and ‘push through’ so often but the tips are great to help me pace myself 🙂 Happy holidays!
Thanks Jenny! Hope it helps us all get through the season and emerge with less flare ups 😉 Happy holidays to you, too! x
Fab checklist, Sheryl! I have shared this on my PainPals blog regular feature “Monday Magic”, Happy Christmas, Claire x
Thanks so much as always, Claire. Have a wonderful Christmas, too! x
Brilliant checklist for this time of year. Thank you.
Thanks Rachel, I’m glad it’s a helpful guide so that we can all gather and at least enjoy the season a little!
Such fantastic, practical things to keep in mind, especially with the checklist about things to take with you when you go out (I find with Christmas and more stress and things on my mind my brain gets foggier and I forget these things more easily)! I also love the suggestions for others who want to help. So often others won’t know how to help, and we may be stuck for ways they could. Brilliant post 🙂
Thanks so much, Caz, glad it was helpful! Yes brain fog can really mess things up (I actually had a nightmare about brain fog last night, ha!), so lists and preparation can make a big difference during events 🙂 And there are many ways we can all help each other but I suppose if you’ve never suffered from a condition before, it can be difficult to know if it really is the right thing to do as well 🙂 Have a lovely Christmas dearie!
Great tips for everyone!
What’s a spoonie? It’s in the title. Maybe you could add a definition to the first paragraph for ignorant people like me. LOL!
Thanks for pointing that out, Susie! Thought I updated the title but thanks to you, I just updated it again 🙂 It’s just a term for someone with chronic illness, and is based on something called the ‘spoon theory’: https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/
These tips are good for me too! I’m a little bit older now and just don’t have the same energy levels. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas
Thanks Fiona, glad they’re useful for you too 🙂 Yes energy levels for me are a huge struggle with chronic illness too (many of us feel like old folks ;)). Hope you have a wonderful Christmas too!
I read through this and I definitely agree. This holiday season was my partner’s and my first time getting presents entirely on our own, and spending hours after work shopping to look for everyone’s gifts. I really had to be mindful of my partner’s condition and the way he was feeling. Stress often exacerbates his epilepsy. Also I didn’t want his synovitis to flare up due to having to walk too far.
That’s great that you’re both keeping an eye out for each other 🙂 Go slow and steady, and I wish you a very happy holiday!
Love this list! Thank you!!
Happy it was helpful! 🙂 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! x
Great checklists Sheryl! I hope you have a very happy Christmas (and it’s not too exhausting!), and all the very best for 2018 xx
Thanks for reading and sharing, Emma! Sending you much love for the rest of the holiday seasons! x